Seeing The Advancement of Messaging Since Before The Internet
By Alan Bailward, Senior Technologist & System Administrator
Today I am 42 and I am old. By today’s standards, really old.
I grew up with the Internet and technology. While I don’t keep up with (or understand) every new trend (case in point, fidget spinners, and SnapChat), I’m not of the generation that just doesn’t understand technology or care about it at all. In my time being a geek and a nerd (a lot of it before it was cool) I’ve seen a lot of changes in how the world communicates with each other.
The Old Days
I’m not going to be that guy who talks about how Do Not Disturb was taking the phone off the hook (it was) or the fear (or excitement) of the phone ringing and you had **no clue** who was calling (it was). No, the first generation of “Internet messaging” for me was BBS messaging.
*Sigh* Damn kids these days. A BBS was something that showed up around the time that the home computer became a thing. People would set up computers running BBS software (a server by today’s parlance) connected to their home phone line (or a second line, or if they were *really* fancy several phone lines). People would dial in, log in with their account and then you’d have a text interface that would let you send messages to friends, contribute to forums, download shareware (and non-shareware), photos, etc.
This was both the coolest thing in the world and, compared to what we have today, an absolutely horrible way to communicate. It honestly wasn’t that much better than sending a physical letter, to be honest. You had no notifications that you had messages; you would just dial in and (if the line wasn’t busy) see if you had new messages. There may or may not have been what we’d call “read receipts” and If the person you were talking to simply moved away and never logged in, there’d be no way to know that. Even worse, because BBSs were run by hobbyists, it’s possible that one day the BBS would simply disappear.
So… not awesome.
BBS / Fidonet / Dawn of the Internet
Around this time the Internet started becoming a “thing”. Email was something reserved for universities and connections between them as the Internet infrastructure we have today. Getting onto this brand new “information superhighway” was harder than it seems. Luckily, [FidoNet] came around as an option for BBSs (though it had been around since 1984). FidoNet was a Store-and-Forward system, allowing you to send an email from your high school friend’s BBS to another BBS, or if you knew someone at the university, you could actually email them. This seems ridiculously simple now (or old fashioned), but at the time it was pretty amazing.
I remember showing my manager this at my first technology job around 1995, tell him that it would only take two or three days to send an email to someone.
Why that long though? Well remember it’s a store and forward system, so you dial into your BBS, and send the email. Sometime that day the BBS would dial up to the next BBS in FidoNet hierarchy and send all it’s mail out. Then sometime later that day *that* BBS would do the same, and over and over until eventually email was delivered. When your friend replied, well, the whole thing started all over again. This is why email addresses in those days looked like this: email@example.com
Definitely not easy to remember. The email basically described the hierarchy of zones required to get the email to the correct end user, not dissimilar to how the current DNS and MX record scheme works today, just in a world where always-on Internet connectivity wasn’t a thing yet.
Let’s Fast-Forward To Now
This brings us to the world that most of us currently know. There’s email, instant messaging, and social media from your desktop, laptop, tablet, and mobile phone. While it took a while to get from the mid to late 1990s to here, as Internet connectivity became the norm and then the smartphone became a thing, messaging continued to evolve with it.
So… The Future
So what’s next? Right now as long as you have a WiFi or cell phone signal, and an app on your device, you can communicate with your friends and family pretty easily.
As long as you have a signal.
If There’s No Signal
These days the next big thing is solving the “what if you have no signal” challenge. This is what RightMesh is trying to do. Ironically the technology is looking to the past to solve the problems of the future. Just like back in the days of FidoNet the computers with dial-up modems were used to create a mesh to transfer messages back and forth, RightMesh is doing this for the modern day.
The idea is to remove even the restriction of having to have a signal to have connectivity and communications with your friends and family. If you’re around people who have wave enabled devices and apps, you no longer have to have signal yourself but your messages and file transfers can move seamlessly through a mesh of users via Bluetooth, WiFi Direct, hotspots and other networking technology to get to their intended recipient. If the recipient is within reach of the mesh the data never even has to go onto the Internet to get there, or if they’re not, the mesh will eventually an Internet connection to find it’s way to them.
If no Internet connection can be found, the data can be stored on nodes for eventual delivery, just like those old FidoNet nodes. This may sound a bit backward; I mean, we all have WiFi and connectivity everywhere, right? This will eventually help areas with bad or non-existent infrastructure, disaster areas, and first responders.
It’s a brave new world out there, but it’s hard to appreciate without knowing just how far we’ve come. Now if you’ll excuse me I think I’m done writing this and it’s time to put the house phone back on the hook so people can get a hold of me again.
Originally published at www.wave.io on June 9, 2017.